More and more evidence is emerging about the dangers to public health of sugar, as our consumption of the highly seductive substance grows, both directly and indirectly because of its inclusion in so many of our processed foods. We have all heard about the ban on 16 ounce soda drinks by the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, then hailed as another example of the "nanny state" taking over, by those on the right, who subscribe to a small government ideology (or is it an theology?). Nevertheless, exponential rises in health care costs, not to mention the loss of mobility in the physical sense of that word and the accompanying loss of self-respect and self-esteem that is attached to obesity, along with absenteeism, loss of productivity and the many other associated "costs" including rising rates of type 2 diabetes all point to the single culprit, sugar.
In a world where the spending of dollars has taken top priority over the saving of lives, even if it is for a mis-directed motive to save money, any effort by public officials, local governments, school boards, and of course, the corporations that profit from our carefully nurtured appetite for sugar, to lower our consumption of the substance will go a long way towards enhancing the level of public health in our towns and cities. Such an effort, however, will be both long and hard, and will inevitably evoke the loud and strong and heavily fortified lobby voices of the sugar industry, similar to the tobacco industry's protracted and deceitful campaign to shine a spotlight on all the other factors that cause lung cancer, in order to take that light off their own products.
The World Health Organisation is set to recommend a cut in the amount of sugar in our diets from 22 teaspoons per day to almost half that. But its director-general, Margaret Chan, has warned that, while it might be on the back foot at last, the sugar industry remains a formidable adversary, determined to safeguard its market position.
Recently, UK food campaigners have complained that they’re being shunned by ministers who are more than willing to take meetings with representatives from the food industry. "It is not just Big Tobacco any more," Chan said last year. "Public health must also contend with Big Food, Big Soda and Big Alcohol. All of these industries fear regulation and protect themselves by using the same tactics. They include front groups, lobbies, promises of self-regulation, lawsuits and industry-funded research that confuses the evidence and keeps the public in doubt." (From The man who tried to warn us about sugar by Julia Llewellyn Smith, The Daily Telegraph, from The Province website, February 13, 2014)
What we have, once again, is another 'table' set for another political fight between the forces who depend on sugar for the manufacture, distribution and sale of their products (all of whom will point to the many and varied causes of so many illnesses that will be attributed to over-consumption of sugar) against those public forces like the WHO, and political figures like Bloomberg, and any others with the courage and the strength and the tenacity and the iron will to push back against the sugar lobby.
And, in the middle of that "food fight" will be the Tea Party shouting about the dangers of big government's attempt to take over the purview of parents, families and all other supporting casts that put the sugar bowl on the table, as a matter of both "good taste" and family responsibility.
So billions of public dollars will, once again, be needed to fight the legal battles, to counter the false claims, to educate the public on the dangers of sugar, to encourage the corporations that produce sugar-laden foods to cut the percentage of sugar in their products, and even potentially to regulate those percentages, as a matter of public health, (not to mention the argument of reducing health care costs that are crippling all government budgets in the western world).
The very fact that a book written in 1972, Pure White and Deadly, by John Yudkin, was out of print, and that its author was denigrated by the scientific community for his prophetic work, (given that the scientific community was focused on the role of fat not sugar in the rising rates of heart disease) and a ground-breaking lecture called Sugar: the Bitter Truth by Robert Lustig, professor of paediatric endocrinology at the University of California, in which Lustig hailed Yudkin’s work as "prophetic" brought the issue back to the public's attention just recently, points to the strength of the sugar lobby, in collusion with the scientific community, not to mention the public's falling in love with sugar in the meantime.
We are all facing new information about ourselves, about our own complicity in the personal and public issues of our times, and about the complex of forces that are arrayed against healthy personal lifestyles, not to mention also strongly opposed to healthy public/governmental budgets while they are also the strongest voices condemning public overspending on such legislation as the Affordable Care Act in the United States. Protecting their corporate financial supporters may well be unravelling not only the lives of millions of otherwise healthy people, their own very constituents, while at the same time unravelling the national budgets. Such personal narcissism and power gives those financial backers uber-power in a world in which the dissemination of information, the facts as we are learning and re-learning them, in spite of decades of denial, obfuscation and counter-factual caompaigns, has grown more feasible technically, and at the same time the public confidence in the public institutions responsible for such "education" has fallen.
So collectively we face a complex and serious gordion knot: we are learning and re-learning about the dangers of a substance like sugar, at a time when we are already deeply dependent on its "sweet" taste, in so many facets of our diets, when our level of public consciousness and confidence is nearly numb through both over-stimulation and the resulting boredom and tuning out, and when our collective responsibility is eroding as we expect more and more from the people we elect to "protect" us from national security threats (would sugar not be a national security threat?) and as we trash all the responsible sources of our information as self-serving, especially those in the public domain.
So our receptivity to and seduction by sugar equals or surpasses our denial of the truth telling of our scientists and our politicians, while our deepening budget crisis grows with each double-double and each martini.
I guess that Pogo was right: We have indeed met the enemy, and he is us!